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Gladys Knight kicks off 2021 pop, rock, R&B season at Britt

Gladys Knight performs at a special screening of "Summer of Soul" at The Richard Rodgers Amphitheater at Marcus Garvey Park on Saturday, June 19, 2021, in New York. Photo by Jason Mendez / Invision

The great ones endure, and Gladys Knight has long been one of the greatest. Very few singers over the past 50 years have matched her unassailable artistry, and this seven-time Grammy winner has enjoyed No. 1 hits in pop, gospel, R&B and adult contemporary, also triumphing in film, television and live performance.

Knight, known as the “Empress of Soul,” will kick off the annual Britt Music & Arts Festival on stage at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3, at the Britt Pavilion, 350 S. First St., Jacksonville. Local musicians Bishop Mayfield and Friends will open the show. Tickets are $79 for reserved seating, $44 for lawn seating, and $34 for ages 12 and younger. Gates open at 6 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at brittfest.org, at the box office, 216 W. Main St., Medford, or by calling 800-882-7488.

Georgia-born, Knight began performing gospel music at age 4 in the Mount Mariah Baptist Church and sang as a guest soloist with the Morris Brown College Choir. Three years later, she won the grand prize on television’s “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour,” and the following year, her mother Elizabeth Knight created the group consisting of Gladys, her brother Bubba, her sister Brenda and her cousins William and Elenor Guest. They called themselves The Pips in honor of their cousin/manager, James Pip Woods. In 1959, Brenda and Elenor left the group, replaced by cousin Edward Patten and friend Langston George. The group was renamed Gladys Knight & The Pips, and following George’s departure in 1962, the classic line-up was in place.

The group debuted its first album in 1960, when Knight was just 16. With Knight singing lead and The Pips providing lush harmonies and graceful choreography, the group went on to achieve icon status, having recorded some of the most memorable songs of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

Top-20 hits, including “Every Beat of My Heart,” “Letter Full of Tears,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” and “If I Were Your Woman,” set the stage for an amazing run in the mid-’70s, with Top-10 gold-certified singles like “Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye),” “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” “Best Thing to Ever Happen to Me,” and the No. 1 smash, “Midnight Train to Georgia,” establishing Gladys Knight and The Pips as the premiere pop/R&B vocal ensemble in the world.

The party kept rolling with hits such as “On and On” from the Academy Award-nominated soundtrack of Curtis Mayfield’s “Claudine,” the 1974 comedy about love in the inner city. Knight enjoyed another No. 1 hit in 1985 when she teamed with Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Dionne Warwick on “That’s What Friends are For.” She and Stevie Wonder sang together again for the successful Frank Sinatra Duets II album, joining his voice for the song “For Once in My Life” in 1994.

All told, Knight has recorded more than 38 albums over the years, including four solo albums during the past decade: “Good Woman” (1991); “Just for You” (1994); the inspirational “Many Different Roads” (1999); and “At Last” (2001). “At Last” showed the world that she still has what it takes to record a hit album, employing the talents of contemporary producers including Randy Jackson, Gary Brown and James D.C. Williams III, Jon John, Jamey Jaz, Keith Thomas, Tom Dowd and Tiger Roberts.

Her involvement in other creative undertakings, business ventures and humanitarian activities has been extensive, and has brought her honors from industry and community alike. In 1986, she produced and starred in the Cable Ace Award-winning “Sisters in the Name of Love,” an HBO special co-starring Dionne Warwick and Patti LaBelle. That same year, she showcased her acting ability when she co-starred with Flip Wilson in the CBS comedy “Charlie & Co.” Other acting roles followed on TV shows such as “Benson,” “The Jeffersons” and “New York Undercover,” and in such television films as “Pipe Dreams,” “An Enemy Among Us” and “Desperado.” She recorded the title theme for the James Bond movie “License to Kill” (1989). In 1999, she completed a starring run on Broadway in the smash musical hit “Smokey Joe’s Café.”

In 1995, Knight earned her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the next year, Gladys Knight & The Pips were inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame. Knight published an autobiography, “Between Each Line of Pain and Glory” (a line taken from her million-selling recording “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me”), in 1997, and the next year, she and The Pips were presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame. In 2004, Knight received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the annual BET Awards ceremony.

Other Britt shows this season include:

Wednesday, Aug. 4: Keb’ Mo’ and Band

Thursday, Aug.12: Trampled by Turtles

Tuesday, Aug. 17: ZZ Top (sold out; TBD)

Saturday, Aug. 28: Pink Martini featuring China Forbes

Sunday, Aug. 29: Good Vibes Summer Tour 2021: Rebelution + Special Guests

Wednesday, Sept. 1: Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo

Friday, Sept. 3: An Evening with Chicago

Wednesday, Sept. 8: The Beach Boys

Friday, Sept. 10: 38 Special

Sunday, Sept. 12: Michael Franti & Spearhead

Sunday, Sept. 19: Nikki Glaser

Monday, Sept. 20: Chris Isaak

Friday, Sept. 24: Lee Brice

Thursday, Oct. 7: Shakey Graves Was Here